Monday, June 13, 2011

Vitamin C(hopin); The G Major Prelude

The Prelude in G major, from op 28, is a joining of worlds. The first is a foundation made from figuration that is agile and athletic; precise as an escapement wheel. In opposition, the world above is lyrical music that floats and lingers:

Pops and crackles charm in this 1926 recording by Alfred Cortot, etched below them is lyrical playing that floats and lingers.

Cortot brings the first pitch (D) of the right hand from almost nothing. The phrase emerges shaped in a long arc with a strangely quieted but still playful close. The restatement [0:17] opens with the same shape but remains full-throated at the cadence to connect to the final phrase, which begins in the subdominant at [0:29]. Both hands sweep in waves derived from foundational figuration as the prelude ends. "It requires," wrote James Huneker, "a light hand and nimble fingers."

Franz Liszt imagined specific programs for each of the op. 28 preludes. He heard the joining of worlds in this prelude as a visitation; "a guardian angel hovers unsteadily through the open window over a sleeping infant, whispering in its ears the words of Heine’s immortal poem, "Du Bist Wie Eine Blume" (You are like a flower). At the conclusion, the angel vanishes."

Du bist wie eine Blume (You are like a flower)
So hold und schön und rein; (So pleasing, fair and pure)
Ich schau' dich an, (I gaze upon you)
Und Wehmut schleicht mir ins Herz hinein. (and sorrow fills my heart)
Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände (it seems as if my hands)
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt', (upon your head in a blessing)
Betend, daß Gott dich erhalte (are a prayer that God preserves you)
So rein und schön und hold, (So fair and pure, and pleasing).

Set by hundreds of composers, we know this poem most readily from the setting by Schumann in Myrthen, Op. 25, No. 24.

Pops and crackles, nimble fingers, a poem as whispered background, a guardian angel, and Cortot playing in 1926--a joining of worlds in G major.

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